Not everyone has experienced an intense romantic love. Not everyone can relate, with their whole being, to the heartbreak experience by some of theatre’s most iconic couples. What we have all known in our lives, however, is a family. While one’s understanding of what constitutes ‘family’ may differ – and certainly, our experiences with family are sometimes complete polar opposites, it is in our basic human nature to want to belong, to want to feel loved and protected, and in turn, to want to love and protect.
John and Jen is presented as a heart-wrenching representation of what it means to love, its varying iterations and its consequences. As a company that is relatively still in its infancy, Pursued by Bear should be congratulated on their commitment to taking risks and providing the theatregoing public with thought-provoking, compelling theatre. Held in the Chapel at Chapel off Chapel, this intimate presentation felt incredibly real and exceptionally raw.
John and Jen is a two-person show that centres around the relationship of a brother and sister and the implications of this relationship on their lives, and the lives of those around them, as time goes on. The direction of this piece was imperative in ensuring that the audience was able to not only follow the timeline of events, but more importantly, feel comfortable with such an intimate ‘peering-in’ into the lives of people who are awarded very few reprieves from struggle. The strength in Mark Taylor’s direction is the beauty of making simplicity appear so powerful. His vision was certainly fulfilled.
The careful use of costume and set made for a very unambiguous experience that allowed for the audience to really focus on what was being presented to them, rather than having to work for clarity. Costume worked exceptionally well to detail the age of the characters (and at times the era, though this was not always obvious), while the set was a real spectacle – simple, yet so telling of the broken down and convoluted nature of the family unit, with its binaries and juxtapositions, and indeed, the very same could be said for one’s own mental journey. In addition to these elements, lighting could have really added to the intended mood of the piece, and the psychological journey. While the lighting did its job, it did feel a little flat.
Musical Direction by Tyson Legg was exceptional. His musicians were superb and the music very much acted as a third omnipresent character throughout the piece. There was a real sense of heart in what was heard. While there were moments that found the cast being drowned out by the music, it is anticipated that this would have been remedied.
As ‘John’ and ‘Jen’ respectively, Brenton Cosier and Jaclyn De Vincentis were mesmerising. The pair look far from related, but from the very first moment the audience saw them interact with one another, their connection and credibility as siblings was set. Their transition from young children to adults (and then back again for Cosier) was surprisingly believable and a true credit to their commitment to their characters and the importance of the narrative’s message. Each provided a very fragile look into the broken psyche, an experience very difficult for the audience to shake post-final bows. Cosier’s ‘John’, as both brother and son, was remarkable. His tenacity and verve were both invigorating and heartbreaking. He very quickly became the audience’s own brother and son, which made for a very difficult, yet rewarding emotional rollercoaster. De Vincentis’s ‘Jen’ was difficult to watch for all the right reasons. The audience was positioned to feel responsible for opening her eyes, pulling her from the past and saving her from falling into a series of unfortunate events – we witnessed them all and we saw the love in her heart each. Her performance was dynamic and tumultuous and every bit real. The growth in her character was just beautiful to watch – nuances and mannerisms that we saw in her as a child still presented as she grew. Exceptional work!
John and Jen is a must see for those that appreciate an invitation to reflect and evaluate life and those we surround ourselves with. It serves as a strong reminder of the hold the past has on us, and our duty to free ourselves from the prisons we sometimes confine ourselves to.